Money as Freedom

Not everyone who has enough money to never need to work actually wants to retire. For these people, money means freedom. Ricky Gervais, creator of The Office, recently wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal. He is not concerned about what people think of him. He explains that he doesn’t have to be, because he writes all his own material, directs and produces his own stuff and isn’t controlled by “big wigs.” He doesn’t depend on anyone for work or for income.

In investment houses, this freedom has the impolite name of “F— you money.” It’s the ability to say “F— you” before, instead of after, hanging up the phone. Traders have the opportunity to earn large amounts, but just because they have the money, doesn’t mean they want to stop exercising their abilities. They simply want the freedom to work independently, without being answerable to anyone.

That’s what I like about Tim’s byline “Free at 45.” It’s not necessarily about never working for income. Even if I never work for income again, I’ll certainly continue working. My mother phoned and asked how I’ve been lately. I said “busy,” and she wondered what I’ve been up to. Between reading, writing, serving on school council and advocating for public education, serving on a political action committee and attending a lecture, I have been busy. Not all of it counts as work, but I feel that I’m being productive.

Really, it all comes down to what I want. I set my own schedule (in conjunction with my family’s needs). I choose my own projects. And I decide where my time is best spent. Only I will judge if I’m making good use of my time. But the drawback is that I have no one else to be accountable to. No one is going to give me structure or motivate me. I could waste hours or days or years, and no one would have a problem with it, except my future self (and my wife).

Money provides freedom. People who don’t have to work for money can choose how to use their time in ways that are meaningful to them, without being able to blame others for ineffective decisions. But you don’t have to have money to make good decisions. Before I stopped working, I decided not to waste my time, but to spend it on projects that are make my life meaningful to me. Even if I return to work, I still expect to continue doing the things that I feel make a difference.

What do you do now, that you will do more of when you don’t have to work (as often) for money? What would you like to start doing, when you have the freedom to do it?

5 thoughts on “Money as Freedom”

  1. “What do you do now, that you will do more of when you don’t have to work (as often) for money? ”

    What a great and very important question, for sure. Me? I’m reading all those wonderful historical fiction books that I never got to (because I was reading/evaluating all those student essays). I am learning lyrics to many different wonderful songs (many for my weekly bluegrass jam sessions). I am babysitting for my nearby 2 year old cutie of a granddaughter. I am golfing (weather permitting) twice a week. I am exercising far more than before for maintaining health. And I am savoring time to just follow my ADD whims without worrying about “wasting time”.

    Plus I am so much more aware of how constrained and stressed I was when I wasn’t free from the need to work for a salary. As much as I enjoyed 75% of the work of teaching, it was still a grind and an albatross at times. Oh, Freedom! 🙂

  2. Not having to work for an income can also have drawbacks. I’ve seen firsthand what has happened in many of Canada’s Indigenous First Nations communities. In some of the richer reserves, there is a structure of oil revenue, federal government subsidies and so on. As result, in many cases, the communities are no longer wage based economies. Of course in some cases there are complex social issues and dysfunctional abuse issues, but for the most part, once communities are able to somehow pull themselves out of the blame game, establish industries, and put people to work in a wage based economy, the communities thrive. The observation that I’ve drawn personally is that people on the whole are happier working. The structure, the challenge, and the personal rewards seem to give people meaning. By all means, strive toward financial independence, but beware to siren song of “no work”. The devastation among native communities should serve as the canary in the coal mine warning of what can happen with too much financial freedom and no structured work.

  3. When I retired 3 years ago at age 45, I was able to do more of my dancing that I could not easily do before. In my part-time arrangement, I almost always worked on Tuesdays so I could not go out on Tuesday nights becasue I was too worn out. But when my Tuesdays became work-free, I was able to go out any night including Tuesday. Also, it became easier to schedule my midday volunteer work without having my annoying job creating conflicts even while working only 2 days a week.

    The juggling act between work and my personal activities was over. 🙂

  4. Excellent post. The idea of retiring has nothing to do with not having to work. It has everything to do with being able to do what you want to do rather than what you need to do.

    Unfortunately, most people work because they need income. Ideally, you will work at something that you WANT to work at because it fulfills you in some way or another.

  5. I agree as well. Life is too short to settle for the status quo. If you’re smart, and save well (advice I wish I had adhered to earlier) you never have to work again yet be busier than ever before doing the things you love.

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